The Dysfunction of Committees
Committees – whether they be in a student government or in Congress – are an unfortunate necessity for large deliberative bodies. Committees allow a large group to delegate some responsibility and divide the workload. To that end, most legislatures require that every member of the legislature serve on at least one committee; otherwise, some groups might be unrepresented in the committee’s work, and make it more difficult to guarantee passage of legislation coming from that committee. Plus, it would just be unfair to let some senator avoid extra committee meetings and responsibility that other senators have to do.
For example, let’s look at the two student governments I worked in. At GW, the Student Senate divided themselves into 4 committees, but requiring everyone to be put on one of them. (The real election was for chair, then, or for the powerful Rules committee.) At UF, there are six committees, but committee membership is a privilege, and rarely is it extended to the opposition (and often times certain favored members serve on multiple committees).
Is that fair? Which way guarantees cross-factional cooperation? Yeah, I thought you’d say the GW one. Granted, GW’s Senate is far smaller, has fewer committees, and no organized political parties. But even if they did have a Gator/O&B split like UF, their system gives both sides a buy-in to the work of the Senate and makes it less likely to be a contentious split on the Senate floor.
I even like the division of committees at GW – Rules (their version of a combined R&A and Judiciary), Finance (combining Budget and Allocations), Student Life, and Academic Affairs (they have no BOCC or College Council system for this part).
Seriously, Rules & Ethics and Information & Communications do the least amount of work in the UF Senate, while Budget is a more seasonal sort of responsibility. If you wanted to keep the number of committees to six and not add any, you could easily combine Budget and Allocations into a single Finance Committee; and combine R&E and I&C into something like “Ethics & Outreach”, which would free up space to create a permanent committee for Campus issues like safety or academics (since ad-hocs on those sorts of things are a regular occurance), and then debate amongst yourselves what else to add. Or, you could keep the current six but add one or two permanent ones to handle such things that are repeatedly handled in ad-hocs.
With 94 Senators, there are just too many to fit on just 5 committees (not counting R&A, whose members are all individually elected). But surely you could look at how the work is divided on those 5 committees and on the ad-hocs, to arrive at a more equitable solution while trying to bring more Senators into the committee process. You might even want to make it so the more powerful and busier committees have more members to help out.
UF is an example of how committees are used to reward favored party loyalist and to shut out the opposition, which really is a disservice to the Student Senate and an abuse of the need for committees in the first place. Fortunately, the UF example is an exception to the normal practice and not the norm.